Skip to main content

Captain Frank L. Pleadwell, Medical Inspector, to Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters

Washington, D.C. September 13, 1917

Dear Admiral:

          No doubt Toby1 told you of my rather uneventful passage and of my arrival in this city, but he may not have mentioned that we were taken care of through the submarine zone by three destroyers which each took about 50 miles escort duty after we left the Irish Channel. I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Pleadwell on the dock to welcome me in New York and also Mr. Roosa.2

          Since being in Washington, I have endeavored to get in touch with some of the chief dignitaries but have not exhausted the list yet, <so> don’t look upon this letter as a final exposition of my impressions here.

          I had an interview with the Secretary of the Navy3 and told him something of the work being done by the force under your command. He seemed very interested in that, but appeared to be imbued with the idea that the apparent inactivity of the British Fleet represented a failure to prosecute the war with all the vigor demanded by the present situation, and I need not tell you that I met with this sentiment, not only from civilians, but also from Naval Officers. One Navy Officer said to me, “We have no doubt the British are asking us to help them win the war, but how much are we <doing in the way of> asking them to help us win the war” – the implication being that they can do more than they are doing.

          It is the same old question of trying to make an estimate of the situation without having full and acurate information. Here one sees a tremendous amount of work projected to meet the war situation, but as yet little accomplishment, and I speak now mainly of work in the direction of the finer and more complete details of navy preparation. To illustrate this, let me refer to a concrete example: one of the first questions I was confronted with in my own department was why we had not seen fit to greet with open arms the base hospital units which were projected for the British and French areas which, as you will recall, were recommended to be held in reserve until a demand for their use arose. ”Why”, they said, “we shall have 11,000 men in several localities requiring hospital treatment”, and when ask[ed] what these men were to do I was informed that they would be distributed over numerous aeronautical stations along the coast, but as yet I have not been able to determine where the material or the personnel which was referred to, exists at this moment.

          I have been struck in my intercourse with various Officers in the department with an apparent Anti-British feeling and have been interested to trace this apparent distrust to causes. As a matter of fact, I found it very difficult to do so, but I imagine it has arisen from such incidents as the following and from the apparent disinclination on the part of the British to accept our offer in matter of the mines, which you will recall. This officer, who is a friend of yours, having retired some years ago for stomach trouble, told me that while the de Chair Commission was over here,4 everything seemed to propitious as between the two Admiralties, but that since then there has been gradually been growing up a feeling that the British were willing to accept from us freely what we had to give, but that they did not reciprocate quite so cordially. An instance was quoted that we had requested the plans for 13” Howitzer and that when they were received, a charge of £25,000 accompanied them. I pointed out to this officer that if they were worth anything, they were probably worth that much, but that possibly the British Government’s obligations to a private firm in the way of royalties were to be met and that this charge represented their liquidation. I also assured him that so far as my knowledge went, the British Admiralty had never shown any tendency, except in the case of the mines above referred to, not to accede to requests made by our representatives in London, but on the contrary, they were quite willing to comply with our requests, although a certain amount of red tape was involved.

          I me<t> Castle5 yesterday and he said that already his trip, as well as Robinson’s,6 was bearing good fruit, although they were met with more or less indifference until they had insistently presented their material. Of the 14 major recommendations made by Robinson all but one had been accepted <and of 10 made by Castle, practically all had been accepted>. Castle stated, however, that your cable regarding their service and your recommendation respecting their possible return to seek further information, had the effect of xxxxxxx riling operations considerably, although Castle said he did not know why it should.

          I had occasion to ask Fisher,7 in passing him one day, what Steam Engineering thought of the Still Ackland Engine, and he gave <me> an off hand-condemnation of it without more ado, which is the characteristic attitude of many of our people. They are quite self-satisfied at the tremendous progress they have made in many directions, but the standard by which they measure their present achievements is not the standard which prevails among our Allies who have been three years at war, but the standard which prevailed as to military preparedness in this country, prior to war.

          But there is no question that if the plans which are already projected, are carried to completion, there will be a largely increased navy personnel in the areas under your command. They will come from additional anti-submarine craft, from transports which are being run by the navy <and> as indicated above, from aviation stations. Perhaps I shall have more exact details a little later or perhaps you will already have had this information.

          I saw an order which placed all the naval details, in Europe under your direction, including the Naval Attache in London,8 which would I should think <would> meet some difficulties thought to exist in the past.

          I had a talk with Pratt9 and he showed me over his strategic map, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx indicated the disposition of forces and I was interested to learn that the question of command of certain forces, well to the southard, and those in the French area, was expected to be settled entirely by you and that there could be no question of one man exercising supervision over to much dispersed areas as that on the Straits [of Gibraltar] and the French area?

          Pratt told me that the<y> had recommended a much stricter censorship, both cable and postal, on all matter going to neutral countries and that they are fully aware of the situation in Spain. I asked him how he liked that letter of yours written before the one containing Miles’ estimate of the situation,10 and he began to swear and intimated that he was having no easy time passing around some of your letters; once or twice he had been nearly thrown out of the Chief of the Staff’s office.11 However, he is at present in a cheerful state of mind, which state is largely supported by the justifiable pride he feels in the recent arrival of a son and heir.

          I have not seen the Chief of Operations and I have <not> finished with seeing Pratt, as I expect to see him again.

          I had a talk with the Assistant Secretary,12 who is on your side in the various things you have recommended, but he has one idea which will interest, if not amuse you, namely, that as the head of all naval operations being conducted in European area, there should be some one equivalent to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy with Chiefs of Operation Naval Officers acting under him in chief sub divisions of the area and the prominent candidate for this position with head-quarters in London, is the present Assistant Secretary. He stated that he had urged such a scheme on several occasions, but I gathered that there was no inclination to accept it on the part of higher authorities.

          I was very anxious to see Secretary Lang<e>,13 whom I consider one of the most cool-headed men in the cabinet and by reason of a slight connection of relationship to him, I thought I could talk with him about some things that would not be welcomed in other quarters, but unfortunately, he has been-out-of-town and I fear I shall not see him.

          I had a talk with Mr. Davison of the Red Cross yestarday.14 Mrs. Whitelaw Reid15 was most anxious for me to see him about certain aspects of the Red Cross situation in Great Britain, but I found most of the objections she had laboured under, have been removed already, chiefly by the appointment of Mr. Wells as Commissioner for Great Britain16 and by an assurance from Mr. Davison to Mrs. Reid that any requisition she should make on the Red Cross here, would be honored.

          I saw the Chief of Naval Intelligence,17 but gathered no information of interest except that a feeling of doubt has occurred here with regard to the efficiency of a certain Naval Attache, whose abilities have been questioned by some members of your staff.18 I fancy that some of the objections hitherto met with in this connection have been dissipated b<y> the new arrangement by which all Naval Attaches are under your supervison.19

          However we don’t seem to have been particularly fortunate in the selection of some of our representatives; the one to Brazil,20 I understand, had no knowledge of Porteguese, Spanish, or French, went against his will and the same may be said of the one to Argentine,21 and that was also the case as you know with the one who went to Spain.22 One is accredited to a country now in a great state of disorganization who, I am told, discharged a long-employed and trusted employee who has done excellent work, and taken over in his place the daughter of the colonel who was in the entourage of the deposed sovereign.

          After I learned something of the programme projected in aviation matters on your side of the Atlantic, I had a talk with Towers23 to get an idea of what was doing, and he assured me that the motor projected for Sea-Planes was superior to European standards and that there would be some 20 or 30 aviation centers, with about 500 personnel in each center under your command and that very soon, they would go forward at the rate of about 300 a month. This information was not available to us when they sought to locate the hospital units, if it had been, we might have more reason for their anxiety.

          I have been able to give them more or less exact data regarding the situation in the European area and a good deal of information touching the general situation in the French area. I have stated and re-iterated the estimate of the situation as we conceive it on the other side.

          There is no question that the visit of the Admiralty and his staff to the other side will have the effect of revieling [revealing] to them, much that they do not tend to believe from you and I cannot but believe that it will strengthen your position immensely.24

          You may recall expressing to <me> the opinion that it was very dangerous for me to come home and your prediction has been verified. When I first came back, I noticed a tendency to deny me full oppertunity to develope the grist of my observations abroad and to hold me here and send someone else abroad at my relief. This was not definitely expressed, but I could see the drift of things. I pleaded for what I believed a moderate lenght of time to unload and get in touch with various departments, and then return but I was informed that it was doubtful if I could have that lenght of time, but <that> they would do the best that they could. I settled down at the Naval Medical School with my material with the idea of writing up, at least, an abstract, but one morning a few days ago, was told that a vacancy would exist within a few days in a position of aide to the Commandant of the 5th District Head Quarters at Norefolk25 and yesterday I received orders to this duty.

          I need not tell you how bitterly I am disappointed to be severed from my very agreeable association with you and the members of your Staff but I was given no choice in the matter and my relief has been selected.26 It is consoling to say that Edgar Thompson27 is the man who will come to you for duty, as I look upon him as being a very fine fellow, and no doubt he will succeed in establishing just as successful relations over there as I could. The loss of this detail is also a source of disappointment to my family, who were most anxious to have me continue with you. I am going to ask you a favor – if you have any more photographs taken in London will you put one aside for me?

          I saw your friend Hoover of the Food Commission28 a few days ago, and he was in as pessimistic a state as ever.

          Night before last I asked Dudley Knox and Alonzo Taylor to come in and have dinner.29 The former has been detatched from Guantanamo and expects to go either to Annapolis or to New Port, where I understand they propose re-establishing a small course at the war college. While Knox looks quite well, he is not in a robust state of health. He spoke of the possibility of being on duty with you and I think would have been very glad to have been with you some time ago.30

          I had a letter from Mrs. Sims written from Marion,31 saying they were all well and thanking me for the letters and the packages from you. She asked me a question which I did not relish answering at all, but I trust I answered it in such a manner as to give her what she desired. She me how xxxx I though[t] you looked upon families going over to the other side, and I repeated what you said when I was saying good-bye to you and what you had told Mr. Beale and said nothing more.32 She was very anxious for me to come to New Port, but I had to write Her in view of the change in my situation it would be almost impossible.

          As the mail is closing to-day, I must close this letter, but I hope when I get settled down, to write you again, and develope more fully some of the gossip which I have picked up here.

          The other night xxxxxxxxxxxxx at dinner, Alonzo Taylor who, is with Mr. Hoover, and was forme[r]ly food expert accredited to Germany, said that he heard a rumor that you were comming home – I suppose only temporar[i]ly – and he ask me if I knew anything about it and I pleaded ignorance. I hope, however, if you do come, I shall have an opportunity of seeing you.

          Please do give my very best regards to “Babbie”.33 I gave Pratt your message and he has already thought of the same thing himself, and will act if there is any occasion to do so.

          With all best wishes and hoping you are getting your accustomed exercise in my abscence and keeping in a thouroughly cheered-up condition in spite of the fact that you are looked upon as being pro-British, I remain,

Very truly yours,


Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23. Formerly an assistant to the Naval Attché at London, Pleadwell had recently been appointed the head of the Medical Section of Sims' staff. At the top of each page of the letter is written, “Admiral Sim’s Personal File””. Following Pleadwell’s signature appears, “Vice-Admiral W. S. Sims,/American Embassy,/London, England.” Upon completing this letter, Pleadwell made several emendations and additions in pencil, which are indicated in angled brackets.

Footnote 1: Paymaster Eugene C. Tobey, one of Sims’ aides, who headed the Materials Section of his staff.

Footnote 2: Pleadwell’s wife was Theodosia Wallace Pleadwell. Mr. Roosa was Isaac P. Roosa, Despatch Agent at New York for the Department of State.

Footnote 3: Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 4: RAdm. Dudley D. S. de Chair. Pleadwell is here referring to the Balfour Mission. On 21 April 1917, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, arrived in the United States at the head of a large mission, including De Chair (as a representative of the British Navy), to discuss joint war measures. For more on the dispatch and arrival of the mission, see, Charles H. Towne, ed., The Balfour Visit: How America Received her Distinguished Guest; and the Significance of the Conferences in the United States in 1917. (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1917), 15-24. See also: de Chair to William Graham Greene, 15 May 1917 and de Chair to Henry F. Oliver, 7 June 1917. A delegation from France headed by René Viviani, a former vice premier, and Marshal Joseph Joffre arrived at the same time.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Guy W. S. Castle. Since May 1916, Castle served on a number of boards related to submarine construction and submarine warfare for the Bureau of Steam Engineering. During the summer of 1917, he had a brief tour of duty with Sims and, upon his return to Washington, D.C., served on a board to evaluate devices and plans related to submarine warfare.

Footnote 6: Lt. Cmdr. Samuel M. Robison was a member of the Bureau of Engineering from 1914 to 1919. In spring 1917, he served as an observer with the British Grand Fleet so that he could study technical developments and innovations by the Royal Navy.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Joseph O. Fisher.

Footnote 8: Capt. William D. MacDougall.

Footnote 9: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 10: Lt. Arthur H. Miles. Miles was assigned to the crew of Pennsylvania, the flagship for Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. The assessment by Miles to which Pleadwell is referring here, the letter from Sims to Pratt containing it, and the “letter written before” this one have not been located.

Footnote 11: Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations.

Footnote 12: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Footnote 13: Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane.

Footnote 14: Henry P. Davison. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, Davison was named Chairman of the War Council of the American Red Cross. One of his major achievements in this role was leading a funding campaign for the Red Cross that generated nearly four million dollars for ambulances and other necessary equipment for wartime service.

Footnote 15: Elisabeth Reid (neé Mills) remained a prominent socialite in New York City even after the death of husband, Whitelaw Reid in 1912. A well-known and well-respected politician and newspaper editor, Whitelaw Reid had served as the United States Ambassador to France from 1889 to 1892 and Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1905 until his death.

Footnote 16: Edgar H. Wells was appointed the American Red Cross Deputy Commissioner for Great Britain on 22 August 1917. In coordinating the establishment of Red Cross facilities for treating and caring for sick and wounded American soldiers, the War Council of the American Red Cross conducted their activities through foreign commissions sent out from its National Headquarters. The War Council appointed members of each commission and appropriated the fund necessary for their work from the Red Cross General Fund. The first of these commissions was the American Red Cross Commission for Europe, established in Paris in early June 1917 under Maj. Grayson M. P. Murphy. By July, however, the Commission for Europe was overwhelmed by work and it became clear to the War Council that a separate commission based in London was necessary. The Commission for Great Britain was established on 12 July. Lavinia L. Dock, Sarah Elizabeth Pickett, Clara D. Noyes, Fannie F. Clement, Elizabeth G. Fox, and Anna R. van Meter, History of American Red Cross Nursing (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1922), 427.

Footnote 17: RAdm. Roger T. Welles.

Footnote 18: Pleadwell is likely referring to MacDougall here. According to William Still, “Whether MacDougall resented the additional responsibilities [as intelligence officer on Sims’ staff, a role to which he had recently been appointed in August] or was ‘temperamentally’ unsuited for intelligence work, as Pratt was told, he quickly earned the ire of the British Admiralty. MacDougall became persona non grata to Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, the director of the Royal Navy’s Intelligence Service;” Still, Crisis at Sea, 34. Sims complained to Welles about MacDougall’s ineffectiveness, telling the Director of Naval Intelligence, “MacDougall has been an actual detriment to me, rather than a help...He can get practically no information about confidential matters;” Sims to Welles, 17 October 1917, DNA, RG 38.

Footnote 20: Capt. Frank K. Hill, United States Naval Attaché in Rio de Janeiro.

Footnote 21: Capt. John H. Gibbons.

Footnote 22: Capt. Benton C. Decker.

Footnote 23: Lt. John H. Towers, United States Naval Pilot No. 3, and Aviation Assistant to the United States Naval Attaché in London.

Footnote 24: Pleadwell here is referring to the recent visit of RAdm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, for a joint allied naval conference in London on 4-5 September. Mayo and his staff also traveled to various naval installations in England and France in order to garner a better sense of the overall naval situation in Europe and how to best utilize American naval forces.

Footnote 25: RAdm. Walter McLean.

Footnote 26: In July 1917, Pleadwell was recalled from his post as Assistant to the Naval Attaché at London.

Footnote 27: Cmdr. Edgar Thompson, Medical Inspector, was assigned to replace Pleadwell as Assistant to the Naval Attaché at London on 24 September 1917.

Footnote 28: Herbert H. Hoover, Director, United States Food Administration.

Footnote 29: Lt. Dudley W. Knox and Alonzo E. Taylor, respectively. At the time of Pleadwell’s letter, Knox was working in the Office of Naval Intelligence after recently being recalled from his duty as Commander of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Taylor worked closely with Hoover as a member of the United States Food Administration.

Footnote 30: Knox would join Sims’ staff as an Aide in the Planning Section in November 1917.

Footnote 31: Anne Hitchcock Sims, Sims’ wife, who was visiting her sister, Sara Shepley in Marion, Massachusetts. Sims to Sara H. Shepley, 8 August 1917, DLC, Papers of William S. Sims, Box 8.

Footnote 32: The identity of the “Mr. Beale” to whom Pleadwell is referring is not known.

Footnote 33: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, one of Sims’ aides.

Related Content